BLM issues its final enviro review of West of Devers transmission project in California

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will in the Aug. 10 Federal Register put out for comment a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the West of Devers Upgrade Project, which is a transmission addition for southern California that would be a key pathway for the output of several planned solar projects in the region.

The BLM will not issue a final decision on the proposal for a minimum of 30 days after the date that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes its notice of availability in the Federal Register.

Southern California Edison (SCE) proposes to upgrade and adjust the routes of the following existing 220-kV transmission lines within SCE’s existing West of Devers right-of-way corridor in incorporated and unincorporated areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties: Devers-El Casco, El Casco-San Bernardino, Devers-San Bernardino, Devers-Vista No. 1 and No. 2, Etiwanda-San Bernardino, and San Bernardino-Vista.

Of the overall 48-mile length of the transmission corridor, about six miles would cross Trust Lands (Reservation) of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and about one mile is on BLM-administered public lands. The BLM lands are located east of the City of Banning and west of the City of Desert Hot Springs in Riverside County.

In addition to the transmission line improvements, substation equipment at the Devers, El Casco, Etiwanda, San Bernardino, Timoteo and Tennessee and Vista substations would be upgraded to accommodate the project changes to transmission and subtransmission systems.

Construction of the Project would facilitate the full deliverability of new renewable energy generation resources now being developed in eastern Riverside County, including the BLM’s Riverside East Solar Energy Zone, into the Los Angeles area. As a result, the project would facilitate progress towards meeting California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard goals, which now require utilities to produce 50% of their electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2030, as well as President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which directs the Department of the Interior to approve at least 20,000 MW of renewable energy capacity on public lands by 2020.

In addition to the Proposed Action, the Final EIS considers three project alternatives and a No Action Alternative, as well as connected actions enabled by the project. The first alternative, the Tower Relocation Alternative, moves some proposed towers away from residences. The second alternative, the Iowa Street 66 kV Underground Alternative, would place a small portion of the subtransmission line underground. The third alternative, the Phased Build Alternative, would retain some of the existing towers, use a different conductor type, and have smaller capacity than the proposed Project. BLM identified a preferred alternative in the Final EIS based on feedback on the Draft Joint Environmental Impact Report (EIR)/EIS from the public and cooperating agencies. The BLM preferred alternative is the Proposed Action with incorporation of the Tower Relocation Alternative and the Iowa Street 66 kV Underground Alternative.

Project has also been under review at other agencies

In October 2013, SCE submitted the application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for the West of Devers (WOD) Upgrade Project. Because the proposed transmission line would cross approximately 3.5 miles of federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the project would also require a Right-of-Way (ROW) Grant from the BLM for the portion of the project across BLM-administered land. SCE submitted a ROW Application to the BLM in March 2013. Because a portion of the Proposed Action would cross Trust Land on the Morongo Indian Reservation, the project would also require a ROW grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

This project is located within two BLM designated transmission corridors, Corridor K and contingent Corridor S of the California Desert Conservation Area Plan, so a plan amendment would not be required. If this project is approved, then the BLM-managed portions of the three sections of BLM-managed land in contingent Corridor S that are a part of this project will be designated as an active corridor.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) was issued by the CPUC, as lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the U.S. Department of the Interior, BLM, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Draft EIR/EIS was released in August 2015. The CPUC published the Final EIR, a CEQA-only document, in December 2015. At the time, the BLM determined that additional time was needed to complete the Final EIS. Therefore, this document comprises the Final EIS for NEPA compliance only.

The project would upgrade SCE’s existing WOD system in a number of ways. The upgrades to the existing 220-kV transmission lines would be the most visible components of the project. These upgrades would occur on approximately 30 miles of the Devers–El Casco 220 kV transmission line, 14 miles of the El Casco–San Bernardino line, 43 miles of the Devers–San Bernardino line, 45 miles of the Devers-Vista No. 1 and No. 2 lines, 3.5 miles of the Etiwanda–San Bernardino line, and 3.5 miles of the San Bernardino–Vista line. The project would replace or upgrade the existing 220 kV transmission lines and structures between Devers, El Casco, San Bernardino, and Vista Substations to increase the system transfer capacity from 1,600 MW to 4,800 MW.

The following generation projects are analyzed as actions connected to the WOD Project:

  • Palen Solar Electric Generating System II LLC (CAISO Queue 365) – 500 MW Solar Power Tower;
  • Desert Harvest LLC (CAISO Queue 643AE) – 150 MW Solar Photovoltaic (PV);
  • Project 1: Connecting to Blythe-Eagle Mountain 161 kV line (CAISO Queue 421) – 50 MW Solar PV;
  • Project 2: Connecting at Red Bluff Substation 230 kV (CAISO Queue 1070) – 250 MW Solar PV;
  • Project 3: Connecting at Colorado River Substation 230 kV (CAISO Queue 576) – 224 MW Solar PV;
  • Project 4: Connecting at Colorado River Substation 230 kV (CAISO Queue 970) – 150 MW Solar PV; and
  • Project 5: Connecting at Colorado River Substation 230 kV (CAISO Queue 1071) – 150 MW Solar PV.

BLM said it is important to note that each of these projects will have its own project-level impact analysis under CEQA and/or NEPA. The analysis presented in this EIS is intended to disclose the range of potential impacts to the public and decision-makers, since construction of the WOD Upgrade Project would make these generation projects more likely to occur.

Details of five of these projects are being kept confidential. Of the other two listed above:

  • The Palen Solar Power Plant (PSPP) was first proposed in 2009 by Solar Millennium. Subsequently, Solar Millennium filed for bankruptcy and sold the project to BrightSource. In September 2014, the California Energy Commission (CEC) published a revised Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision (PMPD), recommending approval of a single power tower with 250 MW capacity, rather than the two-tower 500 MW proposed project, and the addition of thermal storage capacity. In September 2014, BrightSource withdrew its application to the CEC and the proceeding was terminated. After withdrawal of the BrightSource application, Palen SEGS I LLC requested an extension of the original proceeding deadline for the commencement of construction of the project from Dec. 15, 2015 to Dec. 15, 2016. The owner also noted that the ownership of the project is fully held by Abengoa SP Holdings LLC. In September 2015, the Energy Commission granted the extension to give the project owner time to file an amendment to update the design to solar trough and to incorporate energy storage. Because of the CEC’s decision to grant an extension of the original decision, the project would likely be a 500 MW project at this location with storage. This analysis assumes that the impacts associated with a 500 MW solar trough would be a connected action to the WOD Upgrade Project. PSPP would be located either entirely or primarily on public land managed by the BLM. The site is approximately 0.25 miles north of I-10 and 10 miles east of Desert Center, approximately halfway between the Cities of Indio and Blythe, in Riverside County.
  • EDF Desert Harvest Solar Project is a 150-MW (ac) solar PV project that holds California ISO Queue position 643AE. The project would be located five miles north of Desert Center on lands administered by the BLM, Palm Springs–South Coast Field Office in Riverside County. The project would be located entirely on land administered by BLM, but with generation tie-in (gen-tie) transmission line encroachment permits for roadway crossings and rights-of-way required from Riverside County. BLM issued its Final EIS in November 2012 with EIS Alternative 4 as the Environmentally Preferred Alternative. Riverside County used this EIS to support its issuance of encroachment permits. The project (Alternative 4) was approved by the BLM in a Record of Decision signed in March 2013, and a ROW grant was issued in September 2013. The impact analysis presented in Section D of this EIS is based primarily on the BLM’s 2012 Final EIS.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.